You'd never guess, but these 9 movies at TIFF 2018 are 'secretly Canadian'

From an explosive franchise reboot to a drama featuring covers of Carly Rae Jepsen and Grimes, check out these films with a Canadian connection.

From an explosive franchise reboot to a drama featuring covers of Carly Rae Jepsen and Grimes

Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly star in The Sisters Brothers, based on the best-selling Canadian novel by Patrick deWitt, (Courtesy of TIFF)

Sure, you'll find more than 40 Canadian features and short films at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, but unless you're dutifully searching the online programme by country, you might not realize that those titles have a homegrown connection — sort of like if you moved 10 thousand kilometres away, only to wind up next-door neighbours with a couple from Saskatoon. Here are just nine intriguing flicks with Canadian cred.

The Sisters Brothers

The story: The Sisters Brothers (Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly) are two bad hombres for hire, and while one is a little less suited to the Wild West's murder and whiskey lifestyle than the other, these assassins always get their man. Their latest job? Take out a prospector named Herman Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed) before he reaches San Francisco. But this mark is a popular dude. A detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) is also on his trail, and there are even more surprises waiting for them on the Sierra Nevada.

The Canadian connection: If you've been anywhere near a book store in the last seven years, the title should be familiar. Vancouver Island author Patrick deWitt scored a best-seller with this dark comedy in 2011, and the novel wound up collecting an impressive haul of Canadian literary prizes that year, including the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. 

The Predator

The story: If you've seen the trailer, you know this much. Jacob Tremblay is just a cute little kid, playing make-believe games with some rad space junk he found in a mysterious package. But before you can say "franchise reboot," the kid accidentally invites an army of Predators on a genocidal playdate, and it'll be up to that guy from Narcos (Boyd Holbrook), Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown and more to call a time-out.

The Canadian connection: Unlike the 1987 original, writer-director Shane Black's (Iron Man 3, Monster Squad) contribution to the franchise takes us far from jungle to somewhere closer to the Jericho Park. Tremblay's hometown of Vancouver actually doubles as The Predator's all-American setting.


The story: Seven-year-old Chloe (Lexy Kolker) can't come out to play, and she's spent every day cooped up in the house with her dad (Emile Hirsch), who fiercely protects her from the world outside. According to dad, there's nothing but danger out there — but Chloe is ready to make her escape, coaxed out by a spooky ice cream man (Bruce Dern), who is probably much more than just a spooky ice cream man, given that this one's billed as a sci-fi thriller.

The Canadian connection: Freaks is the feature debut from filmmaking duo Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein, who met on the set of Steven Spielberg's old reality series, On the Lot. It's a Canadian production, and Lipovsky was born and raised in Vancouver, where the duo was recently filming a more kid-friendly project with a young female lead (a live action take on Disney's Kim Possible).

The Lie

(Courtesy of TIFF)

The story: A very different sort of movie about ultra-protective parents, this thriller begins innocently enough. Peter Sarsgaard and Mireille Enos are driving their daughter Kayla (Joey King) and her friend to ballet camp, when a pit stop turns into tragedy. The friend goes missing, and while the details are a mystery, Kayla says it was all a terrible accident. She pushed her friend into an icy river, and now she's gone. What will they do next? There's a difference between "doing the right thing" and "doing the right thing to shield your daughter from a murder charge," and mom and dad begin the tricky/dirty work of figuring things out.

The Canadian connection: Toronto-born writer-director Veena Sud is a major name in true crime TV, probably best known for developing AMC's The Killing (which also stars Enos). The Lie, her first feature since 2016's The Salton Sea, was also shot around her hometown.

The Front Runner

The story: It's 1988. Reagan is in the White House, and as election day approaches, the Democrats are putting all their hope in U.S. Senator Gary Hart. He's the titular "Front Runner" — until rumours of scandal scuttle his chances.

The Canadian connection: This one's directed by Montreal-born Jason Reitman. So no, the scandal in question doesn't involve some "birther" conspiracy theory, like Hart was secretly born in Churchill, Manitoba or something. Instead, the hot topic in question is an extra-marital affair. As political debacles go, that's as all-American as they come, and the media circus that surrounded Hart set the template for how politics (and political scandal) has been covered ever since.

The Hummingbird Project

(Courtesy of TIFF)

The story: There's no such thing as successful get-rich-quick scheme, but there's something to be said about getting rich quicker than the other guy. For instance, if you're doing high frequency trading, timing is everything. And on that front, cousins Vincent and Anton (Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgard in a bald cap) figure they have a billion-dollar plan: build their very own fibre optic cable, one that's speedier than any ISP. Beyond the practical challenges of making it happen, the duo is stuck grappling with their sociopathic old Wall Street boss (Salma Hayek), while the clock — and the money — threatens to run out.

The Canadian connection: Filmed in Quebec, The Hummingbird Project is the latest project from Montreal director Kim Nguyen, who was previously at TIFF with Eye on Juliet and Two Lovers and a Bear. His 2012 film War Witch (Rebelle) earned an Oscar nomination that year.

Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy

(Courtesy of TIFF)

The story: Author Laura Albert didn't just sign her novels "JT LeRoy" — she had an entire persona to go with it. Justin Terminator LeRoy was a gay teen boy, the son of a West Virginia sex worker — a survivor of addiction and poverty and abuse turned YA wunderkind. And because this character was just large enough for life, she got her sister-in-law to play him for real. Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart star as the duo in this movie based on the memoir Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT Leroy.

The Canadian connection: Writer-director Justin Kelly spent years trying to get this story told, and Winnipeg is where it all came together. Local production company Buffalo Gal Pictures helped bring the project to life, and the movie (which also features Diane Kruger, Jim Sturgess and Courtney Love) filmed in the city. The movie is TIFF's closing night picture.

The Weekend

(Courtesy of TIFF)

The story: Saturday Night Live's Sasheer Zamata is a single 20-something who winds up on a weekend getaway with her ex — and his new girlfriend. Things get interesting in a rom-com sort of way when another (handsome) guest turns up at their backwoods B&B.

The Canadian connection: Stella Meghie, the Toronto-born writer-director behind The Weekend, has been one to watch since her debut feature, Jean of the Joneses, earned a Best First Screenplay nomination at the Spirit Awards. That family drama appeared at TIFF in 2016 (and for those already lining up to see The Weekend, here's a self-promotional tip: you can catch Jean of the Joneses on the Sept. 15 episode of our series, The Filmmakers).

Teen Spirit

The story: Violet (Elle Fanning) is an ordinary small-town girl. A bit of a homebody, she's as shy as her name would imply — but Violet loves to sing, and her talent's so impressive that one unlikely mentor (an opera singer played by Zlatko Buric) convinces her to compete in an X Factor-ish show (the titular Teen Spirit), where she just might have what it takes to win the whole thing. It's an experience that'll teach them all a few life lessons — lessons that are maybe a little too profound for a reality show "confessional," but just right for a feature-length movie.

The Canadian connection: First time writer-director Max Minghella spends plenty of time shooting in Toronto (he plays Nick on The Handmaid's Tale). But for Teen Spirit, this U.K. production set up shop in Montreal, and the city will (somehow) double as the Isle of Wight. There's some CanCon on the soundtrack, too: the movie features covers of Grimes and Tegan and Sara songs, along with hits by international idols including Robyn, Annie Lennox and Ariana Grande.

Monsters and Men

The story: One act of violence rocks a Brooklyn neighbourhood in this debut feature from writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green, and it begins when a Black man is shot and killed by police while resisting arrest. Manny (Anthony Ramos) catches the incident on video, but if he goes public with the footage, he knows the future of his young family could be at stake. Meanwhile, as activists fight for justice, a Black NYPD officer (John David Washington) struggles with corruption and racism on the force.

The Canadian connection: One of the splashier TIFF announcements of the last few weeks is the fact Drake will be at the Sept. 6 premiere to introduce the screening. But beyond the stunt factor of getting the city's biggest celebrity on the guest list, Drake's reportedly an executive producer on the project as well.

Toronto International Film Festival 2018. September 6-16.


Leah Collins

Senior Writer

Since 2015, Leah Collins has been senior writer at CBC Arts, covering Canadian visual art and digital culture in addition to producing CBC Arts’ weekly newsletter (Hi, Art!), which was nominated for a Digital Publishing Award in 2021. A graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University's journalism school (formerly Ryerson), Leah covered music and celebrity for Postmedia before arriving at CBC.